Airlines and aviation agencies around the world have started discussions with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to address the pressing issue of flight delays plaguing the European airspace.
According to reports from key insiders at the Brussels-headquartered European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL), European airlines have experienced over 47,000 minutes of delay in the first half of 2018. This was almost 133% higher than the delay encountered in the first six months of 2017. Now, trends indicate that 2019 too may be a year of delays and cancellations in Europe’s aviation industry.
The worst time for delays
While a delay in take-off and landing is a huge concern at any time, the news of increased delays in 2019 is even more worrisome for airlines and aviation agencies, given the timing.
With the months between May and September being peak summer months, European holiday destinations receive a majority of their visitors during this period. Paris alone received 23 million visitors in 2018 and the UK witnessed over 40 million tourists the same year. If the projections are correct, travel and tourism may take a major hit as travellers get stranded in-transit due to these delays.
Management inefficiency at the root of the problem
In an interview, IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac confirmed that most air traffic management problems in Europe were the result of improper resource utilization and poor time management.
While weather did play an important role in the departure and arrival times of airlines, it was the shortage of staff and capacity that was the primary reason. Without enough resources to handle the ever-increasing number of travellers and with very few people available to support numerous on-ground operations, flights either had to remain grounded or stay airborne for extended durations of time. Then there are the employee strikes across airports in Europe, which are increasing with higher frequency. This too is another reason for excessive delays.
With Europe, there is the additional problem of the market itself. Many European airlines have started offering flights to little-known destinations in Europe – islands or countries that could’ve alternatively been reached by land or sea. This adds pressure on the already overburdened airspace.
To make matters worse, EU member states have voluntarily agreed to increase the average delay target at airports to handle the challenges posed by resource shortages. What was once a 30-second delay per flight is a 54-second delay per flight today. While this does not sound too frightening for a single flight, the sheer volume of airlines in operation will increase total delay times to unacceptable limits. In 2018, the average delay time per flight (airborne + on-ground) was a little over 1.73 minutes. This, believes de Juniac, can become worse in 2019.
Many airlines too have officially confirmed that passengers can expect delays in flying times. These airlines include Lufthansa, IAG (parent company of Iberia, British Airways, Vueling,and Aer Lingus), Ryanair, Norwegian Air, Air France-KLM, and easyJet. They are currently petitioning the EU for reforms in airspace regulations which can help them better-manage traffic and reduce delays.